Friday, May 17, 2013

Remembering Marge Wintersteen, 1921 - 2013

Skipper during her last trip to
Canoe Island, September 2012
Marge Wintersteen, better known as Skipper during her 10 years as CIFC camp director, 1980-1989, passed away on April 29 in Olympia, WA.  Although Canoe Island has lost a long and cherished friend, our memories of her will continue.

After a few years of personally running the camp he founded in 1969, Dr Warren Austin convinced Marge, who was a Girl Scout camp director, to take on the summer duties and professionalize the camp.

"Marge solidified Dr. Austin’s dream into a fully functional summer camp with sound business practices and staff training,” said Bill Westlake, the camp caretaker for 31 years.  ‘When she retired at the end of the decade the camp consistently hosted 25 to 30 campers and was on a track to financial stability.  She did this with grace, humor and wisdom.”

“ ‘Have I got a job for you!’ I don’t know how many people Skipper said this to, but I know she said it to me at least four times for jobs that ranged from kitchen assistant to program director,” said Anne Eggers. “The most important thing was that Skipper was a really good boss. For many of us she was our best boss, the one you compare every other one to. Skipper didn’t tell us out loud all of her leadership rules but she lived them. I work every day to keep them in mind.” Her first rule, according to Anne, was “The kids come first, then you, then me.”

Skipper, left, with Bunny and Dr. Austin
and Marie Pierre Koban in 1985
Debbie Mellom, who was also a camper and counselor, remembers her fondly. “I attended French Camp for three or four years prior to Skipper's arrival. In those earlier days, the camper groups were small, maybe 14 -16 campers per session. We felt we were in a unique, special place. Not only did we speak French, we sipped wine at Bon Voyage dinners. We had goats, then llamas, then a red phone booth. We weren't like other camps. 

“I did not plan to return to Canoe Island when Skipper stepped in full time.  She came from those "other" camps. I was concerned Canoe Island would no longer be unique; we'd have too many campers squeezed into Gus le Bus and herded around like cattle singing Kumbaya. 

“How wrong I was. I did return as a counselor in 1980, and even though Skipper quickly put a kibosh on the wine, French Camp continued to grow and thrive, still unique, better than ever. She encouraged and advised and befriended so many of us -- truly it seemed she had us all figured out -- I smile to think about the reach of her influence,” said Debbie.

August 10, 1981, was Skipper’s 60th birthday, and Richard Vireday and Anne Eggers felt they had to do something special for her. What better way than to put a Puffer, 12-foot AMF sailboat, in the pool!
“Richard and I waited patiently for Skipper and the rest of the camp to go to sleep.  We took the old, white Toyota truck down to the dock.  Then we slid a Puffer off its skids and up the ramp. Fortunately, it was not low tide, and the ramp was pretty level, but it was still really heavy for two people. We got it up the ramp, down the road, and, miracle of miracles, down the staircase to the pool. This was no mean feat. We finally got the boat in the pool and put the mast back up. If I remember correctly, Diane Cook Samuelson helped us by putting a miniature skipper and sign in the boat.

“Skipper woke the next morning, walked out the Ritz deck to go take her morning swim, and met herself in the pool. She laughed that great Skipper laugh that seemed to go from her feet to her head.  I was up to ‘go swimming with her.’  She looked me dead in the eye and said, ‘Now, you have to get it out of there.’  She seemed to really enjoy watching us get the boat out of the pool and back up the steps, which was MUCH harder than getting it down the stairs. Fortunately there were many more people to help us get it out.  She told me later that is was one of her favorite camp pranks.”

Skipper brought to camp long-time volunteer nurse, Glenda Schuh, who has volunteered at camp every summer but one since 1981.  “In the spring of 1981, Skipper called me with the greeting of ‘Do I have a deal for you!!!’  She needed a camp nurse who could come to Canoe in mid-June and part of July to help open the camp for the summer and cover the first session.  When I checked with my family about leaving home for this opportunity, everyone agreed unanimously that, “If Skipper needs help, you should go.”  So I did.

“Skipper asked me if we should start Family Camp on Canoe.  We had both participated in the Family Camp program offered by Pacific Peaks Girl Scout Council for a number of years and thought Canoe would provide a wonderful opportunity for families.  Everyone had such a fantastic time that weekend that Family Camp occurred each year under Skippers’ direction,” said Glenda.

Marge was a competitive swimmer and a kayaker through 2012.  She visited Canoe Island last September for the Board of Directors retreat to see the new tipis and tipi decks. Marge served on the CIFC Board of Directors until 2006 and her legacy continues through her daughter Laura Sommers, who currently serves on the board.

Skipper's obituary can be found online here

Skipper, lower left, with the summer staff of 1984, including Glenda Schuh, lower right.